The South: Georgia & South Carolina: Small Towns - Big Hospitality
April 25, 2012
I’ve just returned to Miami after a five day excursion to the South. Of course, Miami is in the South of the United States. But with the large population of Latin Americans and hordes of retirees from colder cities, Miami feels more like “Northern Havana or Southern New York.”
I visited the real South – the South of biscuits and gravy and sausage patties and buttery grits for breakfast, Bar BQ pulled pork and pecan pie for lunch, and a Golden Corral (monstrous) buffet dinner – steak, fish, salad bar, vegetables and side-dishes of every description, soft serve ice cream with all the toppings. The pièce de résistance is a tower-fountain of free-flowing chocolate sauce.
I visited an old friend in South Carolina and another old friend in Dublin, Georgia. And in between the visits, I wandered around the local neighborhoods and found a bit of history and an abundance of Southern hospitality and culture.
Just down the road from Varnville, South Carolina, the Days Inn in Hampton was clean and comfortable. I had a delicious buffet dinner at the New Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant – the broccoli and green beans were crisp and the honey chicken was, well, sweet and tender.
(The South is filled with Chinese restaurants, owned by Chinese immigrants and operated by their extended family. Gas stations and convenience stores all across the South are managed by folks from South Asia. Mexican restaurants – hay mucho.)
The next day, the buffet lunch at the Hampton Restaurant included fried chicken, candied yams, collard greens, black eyed peas, iced tea, and for desert, peach cobbler. No immigrants here. Many generations of Southerners, Black and White, prepare and serve the traditional menu items.
Hampton has an historic district with an artsy movie house, charming old buildings, and an abandoned Coca Cola bottling plant. Another unmistakable Southern sight is the Spanish moss hanging from the branches of the century-old trees.
Early in the fog-bound morning, a freight train hoots and hollers and rumbles its way through the center of town. In the fields along the narrow country roads, the green buds of corn and cotton make their eternal springtime appearance.
Aside from seeing my friends, Leonard and Laszlo, the highlight of the trip was the Page House Bed & Breakfast in Dublin, Georgia. I had a choice of five of the finest bedrooms I have seen in a long time: I chose the Captain Hardy B. Smith room. The furniture, the décor, the decorations exude Southern style and Southern hospitality. Kelly Canady, the host and proprietor, is my new friend in Dublin.
Dublin also has a neighborhood of stately old homes with white columns and porticos. The Piggly Wiggly food stores sell the world famous Vidalia (Georgia) onions.
North of Dublin is Milledgeville, Georgia. Early in the state’s history, Milledgeville was the capital of Georgia (1807-1868). In 1861, the old state house was the scene of the contentious debate and the vote for Secession from the Union. The state house is now on the grounds of the Georgia Military College - a lovely setting of immaculate lawns and bright buildings.
Milledgeville was the home of the movie actor Oliver Hardy, the writer Flannery O’Conner and Congressman Carl Vinson.
At the Milledgeville Cemetery, to this very day, family members affix the Stars and Bars of the Confederate flag alongside the gravestones of the military men who served in the army of the Confederate States of America.
You would think that a New Yorker like me would be bored and impatient in the rural towns and small cities of the South. But in recent years, my travel pattern is to avoid big cities. I was so happy to drive north and leave Miami. I never considered going to Atlanta. But in South Carolina, I am up before dawn to take photos in tiny Varnville and Hampton. I loved Dublin and I was delighted to stroll around Milledgeville.
On my long drive back to Miami I stopped for the night at the Sleep Inn in Wildwood, Florida. At Woody’s Bar B Q, I ordered a hot brisket sandwich and a baked potato. For desert, I opened the small package that Kelly presented to me before I left Dublin. Inside the package was his generous gift of Southern hospitality - a luscious slice of home baked pecan pie.
“Y’all come back, hear!”
Varnville, SC. (population 2162) Named for the Varn Brothers, owners of a sawmill. Scenes were shot here for the movie Forrest Gump.
Milledgeville, GA. (18,757) Named for Governor John Milledge
Dublin, Georgia (pop 16, 201) Named for Dublin, Ireland.
Page House Bed & Breakfast